Niemann Continues to Flounder | The Process Report

Niemann Continues to Flounder

Jeff Niemann went on the disabled list August 4, 2010 with a right shoulder strain. Since returning three weeks later, he has looked like a different pitcher:

Pre-DL Post-DL
Innings Pitched (IP) 338.0 53.3
IP/Start 6.1 4.8
BB27 1.97 2.47
K27 4.57 4.73
SB/OPP 0.16 0.36
CS/OPP 0.03 0.06
SB% 82.6% 85.0%
STS/PIT 0.073 0.094
ERA 3.65 8.78
FIP 4.16 5.18

*Data from Baseball-Reference

Explanation of Selected Stats in Table

BB27 and K27 are calculated simply as [(Walks-Int. Walks)/Batters Faced]*27 and (Strikeouts/Batters Faced)*27. This is an attempt to improve on stats that are based on IP since not all innings are created equally. This answers the question: “For every 27 batters a pitcher faced, how many did he strike out and how many did he walk?” Intentional walks were removed because they are not indicative of poor control. Last year, the MLB average for BB27 was 2.10 and for K27 was 5.00.

A stolen base opportunity was calculated as (0.8*singles+0.6*walks). This equation comes from Craig Glaser of sabometrics.com and Tom Tango of InsideTheBook.com. It’s not 100% accurate, but is hopefully a good estimate.

STS/PIT shows how many swinging strikes a pitcher gets per pitch thrown. It should be a fairly good indicator of “swing and miss” stuff.

Differences

Niemann has been averaging 1.3 fewer innings per start since his DL stint. Where he used to regularly pitch at least six innings (67 percent of his starts were at least six IP), he now struggles to make it through the fifth. He has only lasted at least five innings 55 percent of the time.

He has definitely been struggling, but why? The obvious answer is control. Before he strained his shoulder, he was averaging 1.97 walks per 27 batters faced, which is much better than average. Since that time, his BB27 has escalated to 2.47, which is well below average. However, he has actually been getting more swings and misses and has been striking more batters out. This may be because he has been out of the zone more often where batters are more likely to miss.

The stolen base numbers do not take team into account, so it is possible that Niemann has simply been pitching against more aggressive running teams lately. But it does appear that runners are both running more often and being more successful against him, which is not a good combination. It is also interesting to note – and probably not surprising to many who have seen him pitch–that the success rate against Niemann is quite high. This may inflate his ERA numbers a small bit because runners are slightly more likely to be in scoring position against him. It is possible that Niemann has been even slower to the plate than usual.

The other event that pitchers have most control over is the home run. Niemann’s HR27 has increased from 0.74 to 1.08 since going on the DL. His flyball percentage was pretty steady around 39.4 percent, but in 2011 has gone all the way up to 45.7. Niemann has been inducing more fly balls and consequently more home runs as well. Since Niemann has been getting more swinging strikes, more fly balls and more home runs, it is possible that he has been elevating his pitches more than he previously did. In fact, this has been looked at.

He may be getting slightly unlucky on balls in play, since the difference between his ERA and FIP is over three, but his FIP is still one point higher than it was previously. This again comes back to his increased walk and home run numbers.

What Now?

For a pitcher who depends on control and deception more than pure stuff, these are dangerous developments. If Niemann continues to struggle and leave the ball up in the zone, it would not be surprising to see the Rays call up someone like Alex Torres until he can fully heal (if he is not healthy) or get his control back.



2 Comments

  1. jasoncollette wrote:

    The steals are also partly due to Navarro catching while Shoppach was out last year. Navi was actually quite good at throwing runners out compared to the current duo.

  2. Chris St. John wrote:

    Ah yes, didn’t even think of that. Good call.

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